Phased retirement officially turns three this month, but federal agencies have barely acknowledged its existence. And that neglect is making federal employees and their advocates angry.
Congress passed a law in 2012, allowing eligible employees to partially retire while remaining on the job part-time to mentor other workers, and to help federal agencies gain the flexibility to better manage their workforce needs. Last summer – more than two years after the law’s passage – the Office of Personnel Management issued final rules on phased retirement, informing agencies that eligible employees could begin submitting applications on Nov. 6, 2014.
And then…crickets. The reality is that interested federal employees have not been able to take advantage of the program since OPM implemented its final rules because nearly every agency to date either has failed to come up with phased retirement plans that meet the needs of their missions as well as collective bargaining agreements, or offer the benefit to eligible employees. The Washington Post reported in May that the tiny Library of Congress was offering phased retirement, making it a “pioneer” in the federal government.
Federal employees, and their advocates, are clearly frustrated. On Thursday, three groups and an area congressman issued a joint press release asking where, exactly, is phased retirement after three years.
“Congress authorized federal agencies to utilize phased retirement in recognition that our nation’s 21st century civil service requires greater flexibility and choice in retirement options,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the federal workforce. “Based on feedback from my constituents, there is a strong demand among experienced federal employees for alternative retirement options that allow individuals to effectively transition out of government service. As we mark the three-year anniversary of phased retirement’s enactment, it is as frustrating as it is unacceptable that aside from the Library of Congress, the Office of Personnel Management has received zero applications for phased retirement.”
The National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, Professional Managers Association, and Senior Executives Association, also weighed in Thursday on the slow rollout of phased retirement.
“Some of our members were anxiously awaiting phased retirement but grew disillusioned that their agencies will ever offer it and retired,” said SEA President Carol Bonosaro. “If agencies have legitimate reasons they cannot implement phased retirement, they should simply inform employees of this fact and end the waiting game.” In fact, the Postal Service did just that on Thursday. The agency announced on its website that it would not implement phased retirement “at this time.”
Agencies have broad discretion in deciding how to implement phased retirement, including deciding which jobs are eligible for it, determining mentoring activities and deciding how long an employee can remain partially retired. When eligible employees can apply for the opportunity will depend on how quickly their individual agencies can figure out a framework for offering phased retirement.
Specifically, phased retirement allows eligible feds to work 20 hours per week, receiving half their pay as well as half their retirement annuity. Those employees who enter phased retirement must devote at least 20 percent of their work time, or about 8 hours a pay period, to mentoring other employees, ideally for those who take over for them when they fully retire. The idea is to keep talented employees with valuable institutional knowledge on the job a little longer so they can train other workers, while they also enjoy a partial retirement.
In May, NARFE sent a letter to the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, chaired by OPM Director Katherine Archuleta, asking its 25 members to report publicly on their agencies’ phased retirement plans. The organization said it has not received a response yet.
OPM on Thursday did not respond in time for publication to questions about the rollout of phased retirement across government.
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